If you’re planning a family holiday this year, you can’t go very far wrong with the Canary Islands. The climate is beautiful year-round, and around this little archipelago just off the south west coast of Morocco, there’s a holiday, and a hotel, to suit you. Whether you’re looking for peace and quiet, or for a bustling party destination, there really is something for everyone. Here are my top five Canary Island experiences:
Average temperature in December is a lovely 19C, and even at night, the temperature will only dip down to 16C, so if you’re sick of chipping ice off your windscreen every morning, and fancy a holiday destination that’s only around 4.5 hours away, Tenerife is the place to visit.
When you’re planing a holiday, it’s really handy to be able to chat to someone who’s been to that destination before – even better if they can give you a few hints and tips to get the most out of your holiday.
Here’s what I’ve got so far:
Tenerife, for me, is the stuff of childhood holidays: my first experience of holidays ‘abroad’, warm sunshine, sandy beaches, blue sea and fantastic food. Tenerife is a great place to bring the family as the flight is a manageable length and, whether you want a beach holiday, or want a more active holiday, there is such diversity here, there’s something for everyone. The climate is amazing all year round (it’s known as the ‘Island of Eternal Spring’) and even in the winter, you can experience temperatures in the 20s, with very little rain at any time of the year.
What to pack
Packing for a Tenerife holiday is easy as the temperature stays pretty warm during the day. During winter and into the spring, night time temperatures can dip down to 16 degrees, so pack a few extra layers for when you’re out and about during the evening. Tenerife has excellent shopping right across the island, so, especially if you’ve got small children, consider buying some of your essentials, like nappies, when you arrive rather than clogging up your suitcase. Suncream, hats and full-cover swimsuits for the youngsters are a must all year round and especially during the summer and autumn months when temperatures can climb into the high 20s (and have been known to hit the 30s).
Hand luggage helpers
- When travelling with children, pack them a little rucksack of their own with interesting things to do on the journey. It’s also worth packing a few ‘surprise’ items in your own hand luggage to whip out if they start to get bored.
- Make sure you’ve photocopied everyone’s passport, your tickets and any other information, such as travel insurance. Pop it into a different bag, just in case one gets lost.
- Don’t pack enormous hand luggage bags – your fellow passengers (and your family!) won’t thank you when you take ten minutes to squeeze it into the overhead locker, and generally, once it’s there, you won’t want to bother taking it down again. Think about what you’ll really use: iPad, headphones, maybe a book, and leave the rest at home.
Tenerife really is an island of two halves. There are resorts in the very south of the island, and some in the very north. If you want to explore, think about hiring a car (consider arranging it with your travel agent when booking). The main road between the north and south circles the island and is well signposted and easy to navigate. If you’re heading ‘off piste’ be aware that some of the roads may be less well cared for (and marked), especially if you’re heading up towards Teide when there are some mountain roads next to steep drops (worth attempting, though, as the scenery is amazing). Public transport is really good: the bus system is modern and inexpensive, plus you can buy tickets called ‘Bono Bus’ for discounted travel if you’re planning on using the bus system quite a bit.
In the south of the island, don’t miss beautiful Siam Park, a huge Thai-themed water park. For well-priced tickets, try www.attractionticketsdirect.com – also look out for the free double decker buses that run from most of the major southern resorts. Try also to head up to Teide National Park, where the strange lunar landscape has been the backdrop of many a feature film. If you want, you can head up to the summit (well, within 500ft of the summit – you need a permit to go all the way up) in a cable car, but go prepared: wear sturdy shoes and take warm clothing – it’s very cold up there! Also, don’t miss the Botanical Gardens in Puerto de la Cruz, and make time to visit Garachico for a swim in the incredible lava pools.
- Don’t visit Tenerife without trying the lovely salty papas arugadas (literally ‘wrinkled potatoes’) and the delicious accompanying mojo sauces
- Tenerife also produces some stunning wines (mostly exported to the USA, sadly), but you’ll often find small producers selling their wares locally.
- Kids will love another local delicacy called simply ‘flan’. It’s similar to creme caramel and is served in moreish custardy slabs, sometimes with the dark caramel sauce but often just plain.
Like a Local
In Tenerife, locals don’t tend to invite people into their houses, so often you’ll see families and friends congregating in local squares in the evening, chatting and laughing together. They’re incredibly friendly people and will often chat to you – especially If you have small children! It’s worth looking out for where the locals drink as they’re often much cheaper than the tourist bars.
Do remember, especially in the older, less touristy parts of Tenerife, that businesses will close in the afternoon for a siesta, reopening at about 4.30pm for the evening. If you’re buying postcards, ask in the shop for stamps to save you visiting the post office separately.
Tipping in restaurants is about the same as here In the UK – about 10% should be fine. If you’re drinking at a table in a café or bar, the waiter will tend to wait for you to finish before bringing you the whole bill, rather than paying for drinks as you buy them. Rounding up the bill or leaving some loose change is always appreciated.
Phrases you should know
I do recommend that you take an English/Spanish language book with you. Although most locals, especially in tourist areas, speak excellent English, they always appreciate it (and will often help you with pronunciation etc) if you have a go at a few simple phrases like: sí (yes) – it’s just no for no- buenos días (good morning), por favor (please) and gracias (thank you).
So there you have it, these are my top tips. Anything to add?
First stop on our journey around the biggest attractions in Tenerife was the beautiful Siam Park. This Thai-inspired water park, situated at the south end of the island, was opened by Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand (yes, really) over two years ago and features every single sort of watery entertainment you can imagine: from the Tower of Power, which whooshes you down 28 meters of near free-fall drop, through acrylic tubes in the middle of shark tanks (yes, really) to the more sedate artificial beach with waves that can top 4m (they break quite gently on the shore though so it’s safe for tiddlers).
We had a cabana (a snip at €800 for the day, although there are cheaper options) which allows you all sorts of special treatment, including all-inclusive service in the restaurants and a nice free minibar with snacks, and even WiFi:
…with an amazing view over the park and beach…
Also not to be missed is the amazing Mai Thai river – thought to be the largest lazy river in the world, and the kids’ own area, Lost City, with loads of watery fun including waterfalls, bridges and pools.
For tickets, try www.attractionticketsdirect.com – also look out for the free double decker buses that run from most of the major southern resorts.
So I can’t quite believe it, but this is my last post on my wonderful trip to Tenerife. I’ve saved the best until last for you, though, our wonderful opportunity to celebrate with the locals at the fabulous Baile de Magos in Santa Cruz.
Santa Cruz is Tenerife’s capital and wowzers do they take their festivals seriously. During the May festivities the streets are decorated with flowered crosses and in the evening, everyone dresses up in traditional costume and takes to the streets to celebrate.
We joined in the fun, dressing up as ‘Magos’ (here we are looking slightly embarrassed):
… and here are the boys, dressed as ‘farmers’:
Heading out onto the streets, we were somewhat overwhelmed with the sheer numbers of people out celebrating. Families set up tables heaving with food and everyone presses glasses of wine and plates of food upon you as you wander the streets. The atmosphere is incredible – there is laughter, singing and shouting and there are impromptu bands and dances everywhere you look. There are literally THOUSANDS of people:
By 2am we’d lost each other in the crowd and I wandered around enjoying the fun (and sampling all sorts of delicious goodies and wine!)…
…feeling completely secure (and somewhat tiddly), chatting to friendly strangers (who were more than a little amused that a random English woman had joined them, dressed in full costume) even, I seem to recall, joining a family barbecue at one stage… until I finally managed to fight my way through the throng to a policeman who pointed me in the direction of a taxi rank. What an amazing evening.
The next day was May 3rd, the Day of the Cross and time for the traditional rivalry between the ‘farmers’ vs the ‘rich families’ in a firework battle that dates back to 1770.
The evening starts with the Procession of the Cross where locals carry the cross from the local church through the local streets. It’s an incredibly moving sight – the sheer noise of all the drummers and the brass band, plus the amount of people thronging the street. I loved every minute:
Again, we were welcomed by the locals and we ended up standing with a family, drinking their rather delicious wine on their rooftop as the ‘battle’ commenced. I assure you I’ve never seen anything like it: 45 minutes of possibly the most incredible fireworks I’ve ever seen. My ears rang for hours afterwards!
Finally, it was time to go home to the beautiful Hotel Botanico (one of the best hotels I’ve ever stayed in) for a last drink with the group before we headed to our stunning (but hardly used!) bedrooms. Here’s mine:
The next day, I had a flying visit to the oriental-themed spa for a quick swim in the pool and to watch the beautiful koi carp in the little waterways that surround it (again, utterly gorgeous)…
…before catching my taxi back to the south airport. What an incredible experience. Massive thanks to Visit Tenerife for arranging our trip. I’ll be back to see you very soon 🙂
The afternoon we arrived at Bodegas Monje was utterly stunning. The sky was a shimmering turquoise and the rows of vines glowed emerald green, rolling down towards the sea. What a gorgeous place.
First up was a tour of the winery (meaning that we had to head into the gloom of the cellar… boooo.) Still, I learned absolutely loads about wine making (the winery produce a stunning range of wines, mostly exported to the USA).
Next, it was upstairs to the rather beautiful cookery school, to get a crash course in Canarian cooking and test some of those stunning wines as well:
First on our menu was that Canarian staple (and my Disreputable Dad’s absolute favourite): papas arugadas (meaning literally ‘wrinkled potatoes’). We had a bit of a laugh when we discovered that the type of spud used is ‘Quinegua’ – pronounce it in a Spanish accent and you’ll see exactly how it got its name: King Edward!
We watched as the small potatoes were barely covered with boiling water and an eye watering amount of sea salt was added (at least two handfuls, but don’t worry, the potatoes will only absorb as much as they need – we tested this theory). The potatoes were then covered and boiled for about 20 minutes, depending on size. When tender, they were then drained and returned to the heat where they were tossed and shaken until all the remaining water was gone and they took on their traditional wrinkly, dusty appearance. Delicious.
Next we moved on to the sauces. Traditionally, red mojo sauce is served with meat and green with fish. We were on the green team (the green can be coriander, but is just as often parsley or a mixture of the two) and set to work. Mojo is traditionally made entirely by hand in a pestle and mortar and takes LOADS of elbow grease. I bet there aren’t many flabby upper arms to be seen on the island, what with all that pounding!
For Green Mojo
6 cloves garlic
1 tsp sea salt
1 green pepper, deseeded and finely diced
One small (and very hot) green chilli
1/2 bunch fresh coriander (or parsley)
2 tsp cider vinegar
2 wine glasses of olive oil
First, crush the garlic with the salt, then slowly add in the green pepper, pounding until it’s all completely pulped. Now add a tiny piece of the green chilli (to taste, but if they’re as hot as the ones on Tenerife, a teeny tiny square is all you need), then add in the coriander and keep pounding. When everything is completely pulped, add in the vinegar ad the oil.
We added a handful of crushed almonds and sultanas, which adds a little sweetness and thickens the sauce, but this is optional, as is an avocadeo, which adds a lovely creaminess.
For Red Mojo
3 cloves garlic
1 tsp salt
1 red pepper, deseeded and finely chopped
1 red chilli (again, as much as you like, but a small piece if they’re the very hot fiery ones)
1 slice toasted bread
2 tsp red wine vinegar
2 wine glasses olive oil
1 tsp sweet paprika
Again with the red, the garlic is pounded with the salt before the other ingredients are added one by one, making sure they’re completely broken down before the next ingredient is added. The toasted bread works as the thickener in the red mojo. Both were absolutely delicious. We ate the red mojo with some pulled pork and those gorgeous potatoes.
We also had a demonstration of how the locals eat Gofio, the baked corn flour from the mill we visited in La Orotava. The Gofio is mixed with ground raisins and almonds, milk, a splash of water and local honey. It’s worked into a firm dough and that’s it. It’s eaten sliced with goats’ cheese, and maybe even some mojo sauce. We were divided on the gofio but I thought it was really lovely.
I adored the food on Tenerife: the seafood was delicious and very fresh (the ‘wreckfish’ was delicious, but I’m struggling to find out whether this is just local to Tenerife, or if it’s called by another name elsewhere), and obviously we ate an enormous amount of flan (I suppose we would say creme caramel), delicious custardy slabs, sometimes served with the dark caramel sauce, or sometimes with other little drizzly sauces, but often just plain.
If you’d like to see more foodie photos from my trip, check out my Facebook page.
Leaving Siam Park behind, we headed back to our ‘blogger bus’ and soon we were winding up and up on our way through Teide National Park, through weird lunar landscapes, enveloped in mist and clenching our buttocks slightly when passing cars on the narrow roads with a sheer drop on one side. Soon, we emerged into the sunshine, looking down on the blanket of cloud below
Pronounced ‘teh-ee-deh’, not ‘tidey’ as I thought, the still-active volcano is the third highest in the world (12, 198ft to be precise) and the highest point in Spain.
We soon arrived at the Parador, part of a chain of Spanish hotels consisting of refurbished historic buildings: fortresses, convents, palaces and castles, all lovingly restored and available to stay in.
The Parador atop Teide (the only hotel within the National Park) is a odd-looking mishmash of original 60s ‘ski chalet’ looking building, with some more modern looking bits added on. The rooms are basic, but comfortable (mine smelt a bit like my Grandma’s house used to smell: a mixture of boiled cabbage and moth balls). From my room I could see right up to the summit of Teide, but, and I have to be honest here, that really was its only redeeming feature. Everything needs refurbishing, the staff are surly and unhelpful and the food’s not much either. My advice? Come early, do the cablecar up the volcano, enjoy the experience and then leave. You really don’t need to stay. Even our stargazing experience was somewhat dampened by taking place in the hotel carpark (a slightly unromantic setting), but our astronomy expert was gratifyingly bonkers and we got to see Saturn’s rings through his enormous cannon-like telescope, so it wasn’t a total washout.
The next morning, we were up and out early to catch the cable car up to the summit (well, within 500ft of the summit – you need a permit to actually walk right up to the top). The view is incredible, but be warned, it’s hard work walking at altitude, the paths are rocky and a bit wobbly, and it’s darned cold up there. If you’re going to go, even if it’s warm at the bottom, you’ll need sturdy boots and a decent coat.
Do go, though, because the view is spectacular. You can see right across to Gran Canaria and also to La Gomera and the landscape is astounding:
Heading back down afterwards, we stopped to see where Clash of the Titans and Wrath of the Titans were both filmed. The peaks of black frozen lava topped with glistening obsidian give the whole place an almost otherworldly beauty. It’s a wonderful place to take children – they’ll never have seen anything like it and the myths and legends (as told by our fabulous guide, José Ramón) attached to Teide are magical beyond believe.
In fact, the actual stories of Tenerife’s past are pretty fabulous too, from its original inhabitants, the Guanches, to its subsequent occupation by the Romans and finally through to the Spanish conquest and the failed British invasion (it’s where Nelson lost his arm) – the history of the island is fabulous, and a good guide will keep you (and the kids) enthralled.
Next up, it’s the May festivities (in which we dress up in local costume) and food, glorious food!
I have SO much to tell you that I just don’t know where to start. Undaunted by his first ever ‘alone in the house’ time, the Mad Professor actually managed to keep the place tidier than I ever do (and not burn it down OR kill any of my baby plants) so I’m feeling rather a lot of parental pride. The Dude spent the week with his Grandma and threw up the whole time, still Grandma handled it like a pro (she’s used to vomit – she’s got three kids and seven grandchildren after all).
So until I can download photos, whilst simultaneously loading the washing machine, unpacking my suitcase, paying bills and opening mail, I shall leave you with a few photos of the highlights of my trip.
More soon.. promise.
Firstly, here’s my cabin at the Yotel in Gatwick, where they very kindly put me up before my trip (thanks guys!). I had a wonderful sleep in my space age pod, complete with bed (with VERY nice bedlinen) that moves back to give you more room, desk, flat screen TV, WiFi and amazing wet-room shower and loo. I slept like a baby and the pillows were lush. This is my second stay and I love it just as much. Brilliant way to catch an early flight – just drive there the night before and stay at the Yotel. Sorted! For more info, check out Yotel.com.
And here’s just a glimpse of what turned out to be one of the most amazing, unforgettable (and deafening) nights of my life: the ‘firework wars’ in the town of Los Realejos. More of this later. As you can see we were on someone’s roof watching the display. Mind boggling.
And finally a glimpse of the gardens at the Hotel Botanico, possibly one of the most beautiful hotels I’ve ever stayed in. Pure luxury (and again, more of this later):
Until then, I’m off for some hard labour. Serves me right, really…
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